Despite massive budget cuts, no children’s centres in Warwickshire will close if councillors follow officers’ recommendations.
However, free child education for disadvantaged two to four year olds, known as the Early Years Offer, will no longer be available in all centres, putting extra strain on some parents.
The county has 39 children’s centres – which are seen as vital tools in the fight against poverty and inequality – but Warwickshire County Council is reducing their funding from £7.5m to £5.3m in the next financial year.
Officers have outlined three possible options, but have said they will likely recommend the only one that avoids closures. While some centres will no longer provide the full Early Years Offer, a nearby centre would. The Early Years Offer includes between ten and 15 hours of free early education to some of the most disadvantaged two, three and four year-olds.
In a report to Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, officers said the current offer of provision still left some children, educationally speaking, unready for school.
The report said: “Evidence shows that there is an attainment gap in the Early Years Foundation Stage between the most and least deprived, which is more marked in Warwickshire than in our statistical neighbours, which is not good enough. We must to ensure centres are focussing on those most in need.”
County Cllr Heather Timms, Portfolio Holder for Children, Young People and Families added: “We have to rethink how we work and prioritise our more vulnerable families, so will be reviewing the way we provide children’s centre services and considering a wider early years offer to holistically promote school readiness and reduce the local impact of savings.”
A public consultation into the matter ends on Tuesday August 27.
The three options outlined by the council:
Option 1 – Early Years Offer provided through groups and collaborations of Children’s Centres. No centres would close udner this proposal but activities could be reduced significantly.
Option 2 is the Early Years Offer provided through groups and collaborations of Children’s Centres. Five funded Children’s Centres and one outreach site would close or cease to provide the Early Years Offer.
Option 3 is the Early Years Offer provided through 34 single Children’s Centres rather than through collaberations. Five funded Children’s Centres and one outreach site would close or cease to provide the Early Years Offer.